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As a trailblazer in Chinese motorsports, Guanyu Zhou didn’t have any figures to guide him as he pursued his ultimate dream of succeeding in Formula 1. However, Alfa Romeo teammate Valtteri Bottas has helped the rookie adapt to the sport, seemingly imitating the role Lewis Hamilton is playing with George Russell at Mercedes.
Bottas opted to join Alfa Romeo to replace compatriot Kimi Raikkonen after the 2007 world champion opted to retire following the conclusion of the 2021 season. After spending five championship-winning seasons alongside Hamilton at Mercedes, Bottas joined the Swiss outfit to act as their lead driver heading into the new era of technical regulations.
After Zhou was announced as his partner, it was clear that Bottas was set to be the leader of Alfa Romeo, with the Finn expected to use his wealth of experience to establish himself as the lead driver. The 32-year-old has also been helping Zhou where possible, educating him in team meetings to ensure the rookie hit the ground running.
“It’s very good. He’s helped me and been a big part of my journey so far,” Zhou told Express Sport when asked about his relationship with Bottas.
“He is such an experienced and quick driver, so I’ve been able to learn a lot on and off the track as I’m asking a lot of questions about new stuff that I need to know. Valtteri has been very free and open with me which has been super helpful to my understanding.”
Bottas’ guidance appears to have helped, too. Zhou secured a point on his debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix before back-to-back P11 finishes in Saudi Arabia and Australia.
While they ultimately reaped no reward in terms of points, Zhou’s performances in the last two rounds show he could be ready to consistently challenge for points at such an early stage in his career. It was an unexpected surprise – but Zhou understands he has to belie his age and deliver on the track immediately.
“It’s not just about being here, but I think after the first three rounds I have shown good potential in terms of delivering results early into the season,” Zhou added. “It is very important because you don’t have much time to adapt in F1.
“I’m feeling better every week, and I like to motivate the people who are working back home as well.”
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The role played by Bottas in aiding Zhou’s F1 acclimatisation is similar to Hamilton’s place in helping Russell settle in at Mercedes. Russell was announced as Bottas’ replacement at the Silver Arrows last year, and the seven-time world champion has been vocal in his belief that the 24-year-old should learn from his own experience of driving alongside a champion.
Hamilton admitted he would use his own rookie season of 2007 – when he drove next to Fernando Alonso at McLaren – to aid Russell. The Brit said he knows the pressures, expectations, and ‘external feeling’ of what it feels like to be in such a position.
“I want him to learn as much as he can and grow as much as he can,” Hamilton told reporters. “I have no doubts he is going to be a strong competitor. I will be focusing to make sure I also do the job to the best of my ability.”
The 22-race F1 2022 campaign – which is expected to return to a record 23 races in the near future once a Russian Grand Prix replacement is found – continues with the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on April 24.
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